Special and Visual Effects : Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

This has probably been asked a million and one times but whatever. What do you prefer movies that utilize practical effects more than CGI or movies that have more CGI than practical effects.

Me personally I say practical effects because one of two things:

1.) No matter how good CGI is I am still aware that it's CGI, when I see really good practical effects I see it has real because it was at one point a real physical creation in front of a camera.

2.) Practical effects for me have more movie magic involved in it. By that I am left in shock and awe thinking how the hell the filmmakers did that, when with CGI the answer is simple: they did it on a computer.

Now I'm not saying CGI is bad, it can be used well (Gollum), but it can also be overused mainly in all of the Hobbit movies (seriously you can't just put Orc makeup on a stuntman??)

Thats my two cents. What are your thoughts. Practical Effects or CGI?

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Mainly I don't care. Whatever works so I don't get the "I'm aware" or "thinking how the hell the filmmakers did that" feeling :) I just want to be fully immersed.

CG, when done right is completely seamless since anything can be shown/altered any way the filmmakers want. Even a movie as early as Contact had an insane amount of CG unknown to anyone who hasn't seen the making of. In general coloring, background, weather, sets, crowds, seamless cuts, mixing takes in one, getting rid of artefacts etc etc. can be done very well with CG so that none of us know it's even there.

When people whine at CG, or say they can "always see when CG is involved" it is often the more extreme effects, creature effects/looks, impossible camera movements etc. Simply put (inept) filmmakers often overdo it since there are no boundaries to CG.

Practical effects means they attempt to do less, which can be a good thing, especially for non-masters like Cuaron/Cameron/Spielberg/Fincher/Zemeckis.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

I don't care how the sausage is made, and will not pretend to know just from looking. IMO if the effect adds to the story being told in a constructive and unobtrusive (ie. it doesn't "steal the show") manner, then it's good film making. If the effect is used gratuitously, or primarily to show itself off...meh.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

I really don't care too much, each technique have it's place. I find your Gollum reference not so good, as i really thing that character could have been done by using practical effects.

A good use of CGI, in my opinion is in Forrest Gump or Planet Terror. The things with missing limbs could not have been done so good without CGI. There are important plot elements in both movies, so the use of CGI is smart. The alternative would have been to use actors with actually missing limbs, but they might not have been that good, and also, it would have been problematic to present them with both feet.
Same goes with Avatar. It would not have had the same impact without CGI, and some scenes would have been impossible to pull out using practical effects.

On the other end, movies like Jaws, The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, Alien (1979), are famous for their usage of practical effects and they are great. A lot of work involved, and it pays out.

I really think movie makers should focus on balancing the two techniques, as there is not so much of an "versus" thing. Both can be used for desired effect.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Practical effects have more weight and tangibility to them and they serve another purpose as well, they give the actors something to react with, which probably make their scenes with the effect in question far more organic when it comes to acting or reacting I guess. There’s a place for CGI when it’s mixed well with practical effects. Jurassic Park comes to mind, there was a great mix of practical effects and CGI in that flick. The CGI wasn’t so noticeable since they danced around the CGI and used practical effects.

Say it loud! I'm a plebian and proud!

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Practical. I can watch "the battle of hoth" or "battle in mutara nebula" any day of the week compared to todays CGI effects. Even the 1953 version of "War of the Worlds" is awesome to me. & you can even see the strings

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Practical has the advantage of really being there--CGI is not real--on the other hand when CGI is done well, it is impossible to spot.
What usually ruins CGI is that it doesn't have weight. or the camera moves in a way no real camera could move (the end of Spider-man 2002).

The dinos in Jurassic Park did have weight because the animators were expert and they also could match it to the life scale mechanical version.
Over time it just got cheaper and quicker--regular animators who come from drawing cartoons cannot animate as well as an expert stop motion animator. Second, to make it even more fast and cheap-they use motion capture. Problem with motion capture is that if the character is 20 feet tall and being portrayed by a 6 foot human the weight will not be correct.
No matter how real the light and texture may be, it will still look off.
Disney Marvel movies have terrible cgi.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

I love this topic!! Glad you posted it!

This topic comes up frequently and there are a million opinions of one way vs the other.

PERSONALLY having worked in the field for 29 years now, I feel there is always a perfect marriage of the two mediums as long as its done right.

Both used in the right amounts can give FX with amazing results.

The original Jurassic Park is a prime example of practical and CG working together in fantastic portions.

I love that there are SO many practical FX fans still out there.... thanks for keeping the candle lit!!

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Overall I prefer practical effects because for the most part they look better and whatever they're filming is right there in front of the camera, CGI can be a useful tool if done right and the animators and effects people have enough skill to seemingly blend it in with the live action and make it look believable, some companies do it better than others like Industrial Lights and Magic and Weta.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

The problem is that practical effects are often so good that people just assume they are CG! Examples of this are the Truck Flip in Batman - The Dark Knight and collapsing buildings in Casino Royale & Spectre. Before I worked in the industry, I wrote them off as CG and was gob-smacked to discover they were real!

Often you can tell CG by the actors not being affected by momentum or inertia - their hair, clothes or skin not moving in reaction to acceleration. Also, there are elements of fear or shock that I don't think can be acted! Even if you don't see it conciously, your brain picks up that it's not quite right. Thinking of Star Treck original series!

Practical effects make it much easier to act - and that comes across as increased believability.

Where CG is great is for inserting backgrounds and removing rigging - or for the things that are too expensive / impractical to build for real. Fitting the whole Death Star in Pinewood would be a challenge!

Having said that, I loved Avatar - perhaps because it's in a completely alien world, the physics might be different too?


Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

I prefer practical, but I don't mind CGI, as long as it is done smooth and does add to the movie as a whole. Combining both methods works mostly the best, if it's well balanced. I like the current shift in direction from all-CGI to more practical effects. But either way, if it's done good, I'm fine with CG.

Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a *beep* how crazy they are!

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?


Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

I prefer practical effects. If they're practical, then, it looks real, because it is real, and there's nothing more real, than reality itself. Good CGI looks good, but it's not real. Look at Avatar. The CG is great, but you say, "That's really good CGI", not "How did they do that?". The only good CG, is invisible CG. The best thing, is when you mix them together. Independence Day, The Dark Knight, Inception, Titanic, The Force Awakens, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, all of them blended CG and practical effects together, and it looked so great. Nowadays they just overuse CGI, and it looks so fake. (The Hobbit, Jurassic World, Independence Day 2, Age of Ultron, just to name a few) The effects look good, but they don't look real. That's the problem with CGI. They overuse it.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

Agreed can't go wrong with a good blend of practical and CGI.

"Welcome to the human race" Snake Plissken.

Re: Practical Effects Vs. CGI?

To me, this is not really a meaningful question, because of films like the original King Kong and Ray Bradbury's work. There is so much more involved than simply practical effect and computer-generated imagery. Chroma key composite imagery and various other form of matting and superimposition, combined with cartoon animation, stop-action photography or live-action shots; all predated CGI. Even within the practical effects domain without any kind of compositing, there is the matter of whether miniatures or live-size models are used. Also, nowadays a lot of practical effects are computer "generated", so to speak: the physical objects to make the effects are 3D printouts (products of rapid prototyping); the animatronics carry out programmable movements; the timing of pyrotechnics, hydraulics, aeronautics, explosions or other events managed by a computer of some kind; and entire sets, stages and scenes are engineered via simulated trials while, in turn, being robotic in their physical selves.

That being stated, I can still sort of answer the question, and that is that I prefer life-size, actor-interactive, practical effects (like with the original Red Dawn) over all other methods, so to speak, but I acknowledge the problem that it can present in regards to the safety of cast and crew along with the environment, which is why the key is to use "tricks", gimmicks or illusions. There is also the problem of impossibilities in the parameter preferences that I've laid out. As to what I have against the opposite extreme, i.e. superimposed animation or elements, I don't have so much against it, provided that: when it is intended to simulated live-action events, it is photorealistic, physics-consciously animated and not scene-cluttering. And in regards to scenes not being cluttered, the same applies to practical effects too. It's just that computers and automation make it all to easy for filmmakers to forget and get carried away with cluttering scenes with distracting elements, because they're not under as much pressure to be resource-conscious.

In other words, all in all, I very lightly lean toward being against CGI.